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RECONCILING LIBERTY AND EQUALITY: JUSTICE AS FAIRNESS John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice presents a rich, original, and ambitious theory of justice called “justice as fairness”: it is, by general agreement, the most important work about justice in the past century. That of course does not make Rawls’s theory right, but his work is of particularly great depth and compelling interest. To be sure, A Theory of Justice is also a very demanding work, but it repays all the attention you give it. Rawls’s basic concern might be put this way: What is the most reasonable conception of justice for a society of free and equal persons? What principles should our society meet, if it is to be fair to persons conceived of as free and equal: both conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal? In particular, should it be utilitarian, libertarian, a less liberal egalitarian society, a less egalitarian liberal society? Theory offers a three-part answer to this question: first, Rawls presents two principles of justice, and offers an argument for those principles according to which the members of society would choose them in an “original position” behind a “veil of ignorance,” which hides all information about their social position and natural endowments. Then second, he presents a sketch of a society that operates on these principles, to show that they are realistic. And he argues, finally, that a just society—just by the lights of justice as fairness—would be stable in part because living in a just society and having a sense of justice guided by his principles is good for those who live in the society.
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Justice , Spring 2006—2 With time and world enough, we would discuss the entire view, but limits being what they are, we will focus on the first part: the presentation of the principles and the arguments for them, starting with the two principles of justice. 1. Two Principles of Justice Rawls calls his first principle “the principle of equal basic liberties.” It says that each citizen has an equal right to the most extensive system of equal basic personal and political liberties compatible with a similar system of liberties for others. That may sound like choice-based libertarianism. But where Hayek and Friedman endorse a basic right to liberty as such, Rawls’ principle of liberty requires stringent protections for certain specific liberties—of thought and conscience; political liberties (rights of participation); liberty of association; liberty and integrity of the person; and rights and liberties associated with the rule of law. The principle of equal basic liberties also includes a strong requirement of political equality. Political liberty is to be assured a fair value : chances to hold office and to exercise political influence ought to be independent of socio- economic position, that people who are equally motivated and equally able ought to have equal chance for political influence. This principle has large implications
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This note was uploaded on 02/27/2012 for the course POLS 101 taught by Professor Nemnich during the Fall '09 term at Boise State.

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